Eight Indiana University students have sued the institution, arguing its requirement that students be vaccinated against the coronavirus in order to participate in campus activities is illegal.
The students claim the mandate infringes on the 14th Amendment and a state law that prohibits public entities to ask for "vaccine passports," or proof of vaccination status.
The case will likely be closely watched, as hundreds of colleges are requiring the vaccine for at least some students and employees.
Indiana U has instructed students and employees to be fully vaccinated when they return to campus after Aug. 1, or by Aug. 15, whichever date comes first.
They must self-report they are vaccinated through an online form. Initially, the university asked for proof of vaccination, but this is no longer the case after Indiana's attorney general issued an opinion last month that the state law prohibiting vaccine passports applied to public institutions.
As with most colleges that are requiring the vaccine, there are exceptions. Students and employees can seek religious or medical exemptions. Students who are enrolled in programs that are entirely online can ask for an exemption as well.
The institution notes that students who refuse to comply will have their class registrations canceled and access to university systems blocked. They will also not be allowed to participate in any campus activities.
The law firm representing the students, The Bopp Law Firm, called the mandate "draconian" in a statement. It alleges in court filings that the requirement is unconstitutional because it violates personal freedoms inherent within the 14th Amendment.
The lawsuit also states that the form students and employees fill out to report their vaccination status violates state law because they are indicating they are vaccinated and the dates they received the shots.
University spokesperson Chuck Carney said in an emailed statement that the mandate stands and that the institution is confident it will prevail in the case. "The attorney general's opinion affirmed our right to require the vaccine," he said.
While many institutions are obligating students to be vaccinated, such a mandate is still new legal territory. That's because the coronavirus vaccines being administered in the U.S. were approved through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Emergency Use Authorization, enabling the agency to make the shots available more quickly than is typical.
Still, many legal experts have said colleges are on solid ground to require the shot, especially given that many already ask students to be vaccinated against other diseases.